SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Jaden Schwartz‘s return to St. Louis’ lineup may be just what the Blues offense needs.
After missing 49 games with a fractured ankle suffered during a team practice, Schwartz scored his first goal of the season to put the Blues up 2-1 at 15:57 of the first period.
“I didn’t know what to expect, so it went well. It was fun being a part of the team again and contributing,” Schwartz said. “It was a good line rush. (Tarasenko) made a great play to (Colton Parayko). He shot and I kind of went to the net and got a lucky bounce on my stick there.”
St. Louis had scored just 10 goals in its last seven games, including one or fewer in five of its last six.
Winning goaltender Brian Elliott said Schwartz brings a spark.
“Yes, especially when everybody is pulling for him,” said Elliott, who had 29 saves in his 13th straight start. “He’s been watching games for I?don’t know how many months now, so it’s good to see him get back out there and put it in right away. We obviously can’t expect that every night, but he’s a big piece to our puzzle.”
Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo moved past Glenn Hall into sixth in career NHL games played with his 907th appearance. He had 10 saves before being replaced after the first period by Al Montoya. Montoya stopped 13 of 15 shots.
“It was just to shake up the team,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. “We weren’t happy with how we were playing. It actually worked a little bit in the second.
“They come hard. They play their game. We just didn’t play physical enough in the first. After the first, I thought we were fine.”
Gallant said he would decide Saturday if the 36-year-old Luongo would return to face the Nashville Predators for starts on consecutive nights.
The game featured a matchup of two of the league’s stingiest defenses, with Florida second-best in allowing just 2.26 goals per game while St. Louis’s 2.32 ranked fifth.
However, the first period was all about St. Louis pushing forward and taking advantage of Florida’s defensive breakdowns.
MacKenzie scored 5:05 in with his third goal against St. Louis this season, but then the Blues blitzed Luongo and the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers with three goals in a 7:25 span.
Backes ended a 10-game scoreless drought with his 13th goal at 12:16 by beating Luongo on the stick side.
“That was a big monkey off my back. It’s great to contribute offensively,” Backes said.
Schwartz put the rebound of Parayko’s shot past Luongo at 15:57 for his first of the season.
Fabbri scored on the power play with 19 seconds left for his 12th goal.
Tarasenko scored his 27th goal on a rebound at 8:00 of the second period to make it 4-1 before Ekblad’s 11th goal at 10:44 cut into the lead.
Huberdeau trimmed the margin to one goal when he tallied his 11th by tapping in a pass through the crease from Campbell at 10:47 of the third.
Steen roofed his 16th goal at 12:17 to help St. Louis regain the two-goal margin and beat the Panthers again in Florida, where the Blues haven’t lost since 2011.
“They’re just a sound team,” MacKenzie said of the Blues. “They have guys who can put the puck in the net.
“When you makes mistakes or spend too much time in your end zone, sooner or later it’s going to burn you.”
NOTES: St. Louis D Alex Pietrangelo (knee) is expected to miss at least three weeks. … Last season, the Blues were an NHL-best 21-8-3 in play outside of the Western Conference but entered their game with Florida just 10-9-5 against the Eastern this year. … The Panthers recalled F John McFarland, a 2010 second-round pick (33rd overall), from Portland (AHL). The 23-year-old McFarland was scratched from the lineup. … Florida top-line center Aleksander Barkov (upper body) missed his second consecutive game after being injured in Detroit. … The club sent down F Corban Knight.